The Buckeye State has four teams in the Big Dance this year, and all have made it to the Sweet Sixteen: Ohio State, Ohio, Xavier and Cincinnati.
The people of Ohio won't have to do much choosing among the four since they're spread across the bracket –- but, for those who will, most of the rivalry lines have already been drawn.
Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the East region, has been among the favorites to win it all since before the season began, and that hasn't changed in the past few months. The Buckeyes were solid in the Big Ten throughout the season, losing to Michigan State in the title game, and advanced easily to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over Loyola (Maryland), 78-59, and Gonzaga, 73-66. Led by sophomore Jared Sullinger, a phenomenal post player who stuck around despite the certainty of a high draft spot had he turned pro, Ohio State and its stalwart defense are not only the perennial rooting favorite for Ohio folks but also the best chance of bringing the title home this year.
The Buckeyes' next foe, however, brings an inter-state tangle, as Ohio State will meet the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats. But Buckeye and Bearcat supporters — despite sharing a home state -– interact about as much as a Buffalo fan would tangle with a New York City loyalist. Ohio State and Cincinnati are nestled in separate parts of the state and play in different conferences, leaving their fan bases varied enough that Ohio supporters won’t have much troubling knowing their rooting interest come Thursday.
Cincinnati's real rival, of course, is Xavier, the No. 10 seed in the South region. The two have been nipping at each other all season, including an all-out brawl in December involving Xavier star Tu Holloway that heated the divide between Xavier and Cincinnati fans. The Musketeers won their way into the fourth round by holding off a plucky Lehigh team and will face No. 3 Baylor on Friday.
If any Ohio team can break the long-held lines of rivalry, it would be Ohio -– that's right, just Ohio. Led by senior D.J. Cooper, a 5-foot-9 playmaker, the Bobcats upset fourth-seeded Michigan, 65-60, and then held off No. 12 South Florida, 62-56, to get itself a matchup with top-seeded North Carolina. Even better for the Bobcats, the Tar Heels are now without point guard Kendall Marshall, who broke his wrist in North Carolina's third-round win over Creighton. After Marshall had surgery Monday night, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said Tuesday that Marshall would likely not play Friday.
It would take a lot of broken wrists to even a matchup between Ohio, of the Mid-American Conference, and Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight North Carolina, which has players who look more NBA-ready than the local professional team, the Charlotte Bobcats. The Tar Heels have a significant height and talent advantage, plus the pedigree of a team that is NCAA Tournament royalty (five championships). The Ohio Bobcats have been to the tournament 13 times, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen just twice before (1960, 1964).
The lines may be drawn for Ohio State, Cincinnati and Xavier fans, but there’s one thing the entire state can get behind: Ohio -– just Ohio –- upsetting the mighty Tar Heels.